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Copyright Law Part III: Common Copyright Issues

Posted by Isabel Fox | Apr 18, 2023 | 0 Comments

Many challenges may arise with or throughout the process of obtaining and protecting a copyright. To provide some context as to why it's important to seek legal counsel for copyright protection specifically, and any intellectual property (“IP”) generally, some of the most common issues in the copyright process are briefly described below. 

Ownership Issues

Often, disagreements arise over who actually owns the copyright. 

A common example of this issue involves employee/employer situations. For example, if a person created an original work that is copyrighted while in the employment of a company, then the company may own the copyright to the work. The opposite is typically true when the person creating the work is a freelancer – that is to say, the person who created the work typically owns the copyright.

Many times, any confusion surrounding copyright ownership can be solved by reviewing relevant contracts, which hopefully address these matters and spell out who has a right to what. Without relevant terms and conditions in a contract, this issue becomes more complex to solve. We recommend establishing strong IP clauses in employment contracts to avoid issues of IP ownership not only for copyrights but also for patents and trademarks as well.

Time Limit on Copyrights

Many people fail to understand just how long a copyright protects the original work. In most cases, for works created after January 1, 1978, the copyright lasts for the life of the author (or creator) plus 70 years after the author's death. This time limit varies based on the type of medium being copyrighted, so it is always best to confirm and not just assume how long a copyright lasts. For example, anonymous or pseudonymous works, as well as works made for hire, expire 95 years from the first publication or 120 years from the creation, whichever date comes first. Further, joint works not made for hire expire 70 years after the death of the longest-surviving author (or creator).

Fair Use Exception

The Fair Use exception to copyright is often overlooked or not properly understood. It holds that copyrighted materials may be used (without a license) under certain conditions. The type of original work and the way it is being used are both important considerations under the Fair Use exception. 

Common examples of when copyrighted materials may be used under this exception include:

  • Teaching purposes;
  • Reporting the news;
  • Conducting research; and
  • Providing criticism or commentary, such as in a review of a copyrighted work.

The Fair Use exception will be discussed in greater detail in a future article.

How Gallium Law Can Help

At Gallium Law, our IP professionals handle all types of copyright matters and will help you understand the benefits of pursuing copyright registration for your original works, as well as how to protect those rights. You may be a business or an individual; in either case, your original work should benefit you, not someone else who attempts to use it for their own benefit. Contact us today by either filling out the online form or contacting us at 651-256-9480 to schedule a Free and Confidential Consultation.

*The information provided in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. This article is meant for informational purposes only and is intended as a starting point in your search for answers to your legal questions. 

About the Author

Isabel Fox

Isabel Fox is a registered patent agent and has been with Gallium Law since 2018. Her practice largely revolves around utility and design patent prosecution; including conducting patent landscape searches, drafting patent applications, and responding to Office Actions issued by the USPTO...


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